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Session programme


GDB – Great Debates

Programme group chair: Susanne Buiter


Career advances in academia is commonly considered to be meritocratic, meaning that there is a believe that anyone can succeed and be successful with hard-work and dedication. Discussions around the risk of bias inherent to a meritocratic system are increasing. A merit-based system 'discriminates' on the basis of how much 'merit' a person has, favouring those who have more of it – or are perceived to have more of it.
Discussions around meritocracy focus on two immediate issues. It assumes as a pre-condition that everyone has equal opportunities to access and, consequently, acquire merits. And also, that the assessment of merits is not always shaped and influenced by objective criteria that predict performance to the future task or position.
Regarding the first condition, the average share of women STEM in EU-28 made up 39 % of graduates at doctoral level and 35 % of grade C, 28 % of grade B and 15 % of grade A academic staff (SHE FIGURES 2018). The leaky-pipe phenomenon undermines the quality of research and represents an invaluable loss to academia, economy and society. The underrepresentation of women in higher echelons and leadership positions in academia is a complex matter hardly justified by purely meritocratic criteria.
In terms of the second condition, the criteria that predict performance depend on the quality of the assessment. Fair assessment and decisions require two conditions: i) all people are perfectly rational (and unbiased) at all times; ii) all people have access to correct information. Neither of these are trivial.
This session will focus on what to do to avoid the loss of female talent in academia as well as to promote gender equality.

Public information:
Helen M. Glaves - Vice-President of the EGU

Alberto Montanari - President of the EGU

Mary Anne Holmes
Title of the contribution: Does a Meritocracy Exist in Academia (or anywhere)?

Mary Anne is a sedimentologist who uses social science research to address inequity in the geosciences. She is a former Director and co-PI of ADVANCE-Nebraska at University of Nebraska-Lincoln (ADVANCE is a National Science Foundation [NSF] program to increase the number of women on STEM faculty), PI on two geoscience ADVANCE awards, former ADVANCE Program Officer at NSF; past President of the Association for Women Geoscientists; co-editor of “Women in the Geosciences: Practical, Positive Practices towards Parity” (Wiley, 2015) and serves on half a dozen advisory boards for ADVANCE programs across the U.S.

Mathias Wullum Nielsen, Ph.D.
Dr. Nielsen is an associate professor at the Department of Sociology, University of Copenhagen, Denmark. He is a sociologist by training and holds a Ph.D. in social science from Aarhus University. His research focuses on gender in science, including how gender diversity is linked to knowledge outcomes. His Ph.D. dissertation, entitled “New and Persistent Gender Equality Challenges in Academia” was defended in 2015, after which he undertook postdoctoral research in Gendered Innovations at Stanford University. He is currently a part of the European Commission’s “Gendered Innovations 2” Expert Group. Dr. Nielsen has published numerous papers on the topic of gender in science, including pieces in Nature Human Behaviour, PNAS, eLife and Research Policy.

Ligia Pérez-Cruz
Title of the contribution: Women meritocracy in developing countries-perspectives and challenges

Ligia is President of the Mexican Geophysical Union (UGM). In this position she has contributed to promote the geosciences in Mexico and the Americas. The UGM Annual Meeting is the largest in Latin America with more than 1000 participants. She is the Director of the Research Vessels “Justo Sierra” and “El Puma” of the National University of Mexico (UNAM). The vessels have navigated conducting oceanography and marine geophysics expeditions in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, the Gulf of California, the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea. She is a researcher in the Institute of Geophysics at UNAM. Her research focuses on paleoclimate reconstructions, the Chicxulub Impact and, Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum and other hyperthermal events during the Cenozoic. She has participated in more than 40 oceanographic expeditions, including IODP expeditions 364 and 385.

Convener: Alberto Montanari | Co-conveners: Robin Bell, Hodaka Kawahata, Robin Robertson
Wed, 06 May, 16:15–17:15 (CEST)

The UN widely promotes the Sustainable Development Goals, 17 common goals to a sustainable future for our planet and its citizens. By 2030 Europe aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% (compared with 1990). The accelerating exploitation of our ecosystems has been highlighted annually by Earth Overshoot Days. The urgent need to combat climate change requires that we significantly increase use of clean energies and energy storage and decrease our non-energy emissions (e.g. through electric vehicles, better building materials). But the infrastructure needed for the transition to a low-carbon society will require the production and consumption of vast amounts of mineral products, not only the much publicised critical metals but also more common mineral products like copper, iron and sand.
The circular economy has been lauded as a solution to the increased demand on resources and related climate impacts. Reducing waste and improving efficiencies are essential. However, given (i) increasing populations and improving living standards globally, (ii) the decades-long duration that many raw materials are in use, (iii) the difficulties and/or environmental impact of recovering and recycling some materials, and (iv) the strain on our energy, land and water resources, it is time to define the role of the geoscience community in managing Earth resources and achieving a more sustainable future.
We will also need to provide our expertise to the wider public conversations about our natural resources: Is it reasonable the public think the circular economy can be applied to all items we consume? Where will substitutions come from? And will they in turn impact on our environment? One of our responsibilities must be to communicate effectively with politicians, industry and the general public to strengthen the science message.
We must also identify priorities. If we are to move to PV and wind energy and reduce emissions through electric vehicles, what impact will this have on demand for natural resources? Would the public support mining to achieve a ‘carbon neutral’ future? This is complicated by Europe’s dependence on imported metals, possibly from countries with ethical, human rights and environmental breaches. Would Europeans apply locavore logic to minerals and condone the opening of new local mines?
This Great Debate will generate open discussion about our natural resources and our role as Earth Scientists in achieving a more sustainable future.

Public information:
Guest speakers:
- Dr Karen Hanghøj, Director of British Geological Survey
- Prof. Saleem Ali, University of Delaware
- Andy Whitmore, Co-chair, London Mining Network
- Dr Patrick Redmond, Kobold Metals

Dr Aoife Braiden, Geological Survey Ireland

The session will comprise a short introduction to the topic by the chair, followed by a brief summary of key points from each speaker and a wider discussion about some of the key issues raised. Attendees can submit questions online which will be put to the panel towards the end of the session.

Convener: Aoife Braiden | Co-convener: Nicholas T. Arndt
Fri, 08 May, 14:00–15:00 (CEST)

Scientists who travel frequently for conferences or fieldwork are under pressure to justify their (large) carbon footprint. With the increased power of technology for both online streaming and remote observations, should the number of people attending conferences and going on fieldwork decrease? What are the benefits of attending a conference in person or going on fieldwork, and does that outweigh the negative of an enhanced carbon footprint?

During this Great Debate, we will discuss two activities that currently contribute greatly to our carbon footprint: 1) conference attendance and 2) data acquisition through fieldwork. For the first topic, we will focus on the question: what are the advantages and disadvantages of attending conferences in person, which often includes long-range travelling, instead of online streaming the conference? For the second topic we address the question: with the increasing number of remote observations, should scientists still be travelling long distances for fieldwork?

Public information:
This great debate will be moderated by Professor David Vaughan, director of science at the British Antarctic Survey, UK. The panel members include:
Mark Smith, founder of seat61.com. This website and blog provides information on no-fly travel across the world, and has helped hundreds of attendees of the EGU conference in Vienna over the years. He has won a number of responsible tourism awards including 'best low carbon transport and technology initiative'.
Ella Gilbert, PhD student at the British Antarctic Survey and University of East Anglia. Ella has experience in fieldwork at both ends of the Earth, is an active science communicator and is an advocate for reducing carbon, both within science and in her personal life.
Dr. Sudheer Kumar Tiwari, an early career scientist working at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay in Mumbai. Sudheer often has to fly to conferences which are held in Europe or the USA. He has many years of experience in fieldwork for structural geology, and has often travelled by train or car to access these places.
Prof. Susanne Buiter, programme committee chair for EGU and professor at RWTH Aachen University. Susanne was instrumental in swiftly changing EGU 2020 to an online-only format, and has first hand knowledge of the advantages and challenges of hosting large conferences online. With her background in solid earth geology, she also has experience in fieldwork.

Convener: Jenny Turton | Co-conveners: Raffaele Albano, Anouk Beniest, Annegret Larsen, David Vaughan (deceased)(deceased)
Mon, 04 May, 10:45–11:45 (CEST)

Several recent reports produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) discuss the role of forests in the climate system. The IPCC Special Report on 1.5OC speaks of the potential of forests to take up CO2 and concludes that substantial afforestation efforts (with a potential of up to 3.6 GtCO2 yr−1, medium confidence) would be required in pathways limiting global warming to 1.5°C with limited or no overshoot. At the same time, the IPCC special report on land approved in August 2019 concludes that at the deployment scale of several GtCO2 per year the adverse side effects for adaptation, desertification, land degradation and food security would be expected with a high degree of confidence. But do we understand well what is the total footprint of the forest? There is an increase in greening observed from the satellites which demonstrate the fertilization effect, but forests are not only taking up CO2, they are also sources of methane and reactive constituents that impact climate on a short term.
The proposed great debate will address different opinions on the mitigation potential of forests.

Public information:
Session moderator: Oksana Tarasova, World Meteorological Organization
Session panellists:
1) Prof Gensuo Jia, the Institute of Atmospheric Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, China
2) Dr Bronson W. Griscom, Moore Center for Science, Conservation International, USA
3) Dr Luciana Vanni Gatti, National Institute for Space Research, Earth System Science Center, Brazil
4) Dr Catherine Scott, NERC Independent Research Fellow, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds, UK

Convener: Oksana Tarasova | Co-convener: Claudia Volosciuk
Tue, 05 May, 14:00–15:00 (CEST)

The way in which people receive and share information has changed rapidly since the introduction of the internet and social media. This has, in some cases, assisted the rise of fake news and misinformation which is challenging the scientific community, policymaking and democracy as we know it. Scientists are trained to undertake impartial research that is built on a strong, theoretical foundation and communicate the results without emotion and injecting a storyline or opinion into research communication is often considered to have the potential to both threaten an individual’s scientific integrity and the reputation of the scientific community as a whole. But with the prevalence of fake news, populism and misinformation increasing, do we as scientists need to re-think the way we communicate our science?

After all, it’s not only facts that influence our individual and societal decision-making, but also values and social relations. Perhaps scientists do need to be trained in emotional literacy and in the use of framing, metaphors and narratives to more effectively communicate their science on an emotional level and reduce the power of those spreading misinformation.

This Great Debate will outline what makes people believe fake news and misinformation and the impact that this has. It will debate how researchers can communicate their research with people who reject traditional science narratives, when scientists should tap into their audiences' emotions and if the apparent choice between “fact” and “feeling” is a false dilemma.

Convener: Noel Baker | Co-conveners: Cathelijne Stoof, Hazel Gibson
Thu, 07 May, 16:15–17:15 (CEST)